There are many ways to discuss the year 2020.
The entire world has endured the anxiety and pain of COVID-19. Here in the United States, we recently endured what may be the most fractious presidential election in decades – and possibly ever. From Wall Street to Main Street, the economic gap has never been wider, and those of us with children learning remotely have a new appreciation for what happens to children, both educationally and emotionally, when kept too far away from their peers.
And workers are not immune. Business trips and industry events vanished. Our co-worker collaborations now filter through the lag-filled “Hollywood Squares” world of Zoom. Forced work-from-home is changing our professional conduct – and not always for the better. A paper published by Harvard Business School, “Collaborating During Coronavirus: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Nature of Work,” found some not-too-surprising results from a study of more than three million worldwide workers. During COVID-19 lockdowns, on average:
Employees sent 5.2% more emails daily
Workers sent 8.3% more emails after business hours
People attended 13% more meetings
The workday ran 8.2% longer
Somehow, we’re compensating for our seclusion by working longer and creating more interactions. We feel an impulse to connect more, but we’re doing so in ways that may be increasing stress and undermining actual productivity.
What can be done immediately to make sure that entering 2021 is a meaningful turning of the corner, not just a flipping of the calendar?
Step 1: Understand social capital
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) describes social capital as “the links, shared values, and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.” Social capital is the glue that binds our social networks together.
That sounds a bit academic and intangible, so let us offer a real-world example with a slightly different angle. Here at Thrive HR, we have been working together since we were in human resources at Cisco two decades ago. We began as colleagues, became friends, and have stayed in contact throughout the years. You might think of all that interaction as a mutually accrued currency – the social capital between us. In fact, we had so much social capital that we founded Thrive HR Consulting together.
Isolation and division erode social capital. Ever wonder why people fly into offended rages so easily on social media? It’s because most of those relationships have no social capital, no accrued currency, to draw upon. While socially distanced during lockdown, we (and countless other close friends and colleagues) have a large enough capital buffer to withstand 12 or – if needed – even 24 months of separation. “Thin” relationships do not.
Human resources leaders need to understand that all relationships involve some amount of social capital. The challenge, especially with a work-from-home labor force, is to promote interactions that at least maintain – and perhaps build – existing social capital levels. The erosion must stop. It undermines morale, saps productivity, and will drain the lifeblood from organizations already under unusual strain.
Step 2: Promote unity
Here’s a fun fact: We are complete political opposites. In the recent election, one campaigned and phoned tirelessly for party X while the other is the state’s vice chairman of the opposing party Y. So, in a year when we’ve seen friendships, and even family bonds incinerate in the so-called dumpster fire of 2020 politics, it’s immensely gratifying that we continue to prize each other’s respective strengths. We love one another like brothers and share so many things in common. We keep working together to make things better for our business and even our country.
In other words, we exhibit unity. Unity, when applied as a guiding principle across an organization, can be massively, positively transformative. You might describe unity as a state of oneness or harmony. When a workforce moves in unison and everyone focuses on a common goal, that group can accomplish anything.
The number-one enemy of organizational unity is ego. You know that one person who sucks up all the oxygen in a group meeting? The one who pushes their own ideas or agenda to the exclusion of everyone else? Nothing gets done. Factions form. Resentment builds. That one person works desperately toward an individual goal because his/her ego can’t bear the thought of being wrong – or even out of the spotlight – and and it can destabilize the entire organization.
To be clear, unity does not apply to only a certain group. That exacerbates us-versus-them thinking. Unity means everyone.
HR leaders and management can build and promote unity through devotion to open communications, transparency, and clarity. This builds trust in the organization from top to bottom. Unity doesn’t happen overnight. But it will come with practice, consistency, and a commitment to rewarding those who help build unity – and removing those who get in its way.
Step 3: Yes, team-building exercises – still
One of the biggest ways to promote social capital in organizations, which in turn smooths progress toward unity, is through team building. Sharing experiences is our mutual currency. And since it’s so hard to share anything when remote, managers need to work even harder to create positive experiences for their employees.
True, you’re probably not going zip lining together in the immediate future, but this is the heyday of online group gaming. Not everything has to be stiff and stodgy. Consider a few rounds of Among Us (four to 10 players). Or laugh your way through Scribbl.io (up to 12 players). Or maybe work through some brain teasers at BrainDen.com.
Sponsor a contest or two. Have your group view the same cooking video and then show off their culinary victory. Or tragic Pinterest fail. You get the idea.
Encourage people to do things together, even though they’re separated, and get them interested in one another as human beings, not just faces in small squares on a screen.
Come together and soar higher in 2021
Social capital. Unity. Team building. These are three sides of a single pyramid. Put them together and you can pull your enterprise out of the 2020 morass. Get your people reinvigorated and reinterested in each other. Even though we’re going to remain socially distant for a while longer, we can weather the rest of this storm in better shape physically, fiscally, and mentally. Companies that that help their employees stay energized during this period will find themselves with less ground to make up when we return to the workplace, and in a far better position to capitalize on the coming recovery.
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